Canberra is the capital city of Australia. With a population of 403,468, it is Australia’s largest inland city and the eighth-largest city overall. The city is located at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), 280 km (170 mi) south-west of Sydney, and 660 km (410 mi) north-east of Melbourne. A resident of Canberra is known as a “Canberran”. Although Canberra is the capital and seat of government, many federal government ministries have secondary seats in state capital cities, as do the Governor-General and the Prime Minister.
The site of Canberra was selected for the location of the nation’s capital in 1908 as a compromise between rivals Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s two largest cities. It is unusual among Australian cities, being an entirely planned city outside of any state, similar to Washington, D.C. in the United States, or Brasília in Brazil. Following an international contest for the city’s design, a blueprint by American architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin was selected and construction commenced in 1913. The Griffins’ plan featured geometric motifs such as circles, hexagons and triangles, and was centred on axes aligned with significant topographical landmarks in the Australian Capital Territory.
Before white settlement, the area in which Canberra would eventually be constructed was seasonally inhabited by Indigenous Australians. Anthropologist Norman Tindale suggested the principal group occupying the region were the Ngunnawal people, while the Ngarigo lived immediately to the south of the ACT, the Wandandian to the east, the Walgulu also to the south, Gandangara people to the north, and Wiradjuri to the north west. Archaeological evidence of settlement in the region includes inhabited rock shelters, rock paintings and engravings, burial places, camps and quarry sites, and stone tools and arrangements. Artefacts suggests early human activity occurred at some point in the area 21,000 years previously.
European exploration and settlement started in the Canberra area as early as the 1820s. There were four expeditions between 1820 and 1824. White settlement of the area probably dates from 1823, when a homestead or station was built on what is now the Acton peninsula by stockmen employed by Joshua John Moore. He formally applied to purchase the site on 16 December 1826, naming the property “Canberry”. On 30 April 1827, Moore was told by letter that he could retain possession of 1,000 acres (405 ha) at Canberry.
The European population in the Canberra area continued to grow slowly throughout the 19th century. Among them was the Campbell family of “Duntroon”; their imposing stone house is now the officers’ mess of the Royal Military College, Duntroon. The Campbells sponsored settlement by other farmer families to work their land, such as the Southwells of “Weetangera”. Other notable early settlers included the inter-related Murray and Gibbes families, who owned the Yarralumla estate now the site of the official residence of the Governor-General of Australia from the 1830s through to 1881.
The oldest surviving public building in the inner-city is the Anglican Church of St John the Baptist, in the suburb of Reid, which was consecrated in 1845. St John’s churchyard contains the earliest graves in the district. As the European presence increased, the indigenous population dwindled, mainly from disease such as smallpox and measles.
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